THE countdown is on for the 28th Isle of Man International Darts Festival at the Villa Marina between March 8-10.
It is the annual opportunity for the island’s top men and women darts players to mix and match with the world’s leading exponents.
This year’s three-day £23,000 festival offers island aces a chance of rich pickings across eight competitions.
Top of the list is the prestigious men’s and women’s singles, which offer a combined total purse of £15,260. In addition to the £5,000 top prize in the men’s event and £3,000 in the women’s, there are important ranking points on offer.
The winners will also earn a spot in this autumn’s Winmau World Masters tournament in the north-west of England, which could open the door to a place in the 2014 Lakeside World Darts Championship at Frimley Green.
On top of this, the islander getting furthest in the men’s and singles events will pocket a special £100 bonus, so there is everything to play for.
In addition to opportunities for islanders in the men’s and women’s singles, young pretenders have a real chance to make a name for themselves at the oche. The Winmau World Masters Youth play-offs not only offer a £400 prize purse but there is £160 on offer to the eventual winner, who will also book a place in the Winmau World Masters youth tournament at the end of the year.
The international festival bulls off on Thursday, March 7 with the £1,000 winner-takes-all Okells ‘Early Bird’ Trophy.
Two years ago, islander Colin Tyrer lifted the title and memories of the win will surely inspire Manx marksmen again next month.
The whole festival will follow the tried and tested formula of previous years with the mixed pairs and Winmau youth competition on the Friday evening. Saturday sees the men’s and women’s singles with Sunday morning’s men’s and women’s doubles competitions followed by the grand finals of all events during the afternoon.
Specsavers have stepped in to offer a share of a £1,000 bonus for any player(s) hitting the perfect nine-dart game. During the 28-year history of the event it has been achieved twice, so could someone be third time lucky this year?
The line-up for this year’s festival will read like a who’s who of the British Darts Organisation with most of those who competed in January’s Lakeside men’s and women’s world championships doing battle at the Villa Marina.
Respective world champions, Scott Waites and Anastasia Dobromyslova, head a galaxy of big names including former world number ones Martin Adams and Trina Gulliver.
But the biggest cheer of the weekend is likely to be reserved for former world champion, jovial giant Andy Fordham. Widely known as ‘The Viking’, Andy has battled back from illness and is now bidding to return to the world stage and sees the Manx tournament as an important part of his comeback trail.
Don’t be surprised to see a member of the invading ‘orange army’ from Holland spoiling the celebrations. Last year, Jeffrey de Graaf won an all-Dutch encounter to lift the Manx title, and then former world champion Francis Hoenselaar rounded off the weekend by annexing the women’s title.
Wesley Harms – losing semi-finalist in January’s world championship - arrives at the Manx tournament flushed with his success in the Scottish Open while world champion Waites annexed the Dutch Open, confirming his January world crown reinforces his standing as the man to beat.
Tournament director Les France said: ‘I say every year we are expecting to experience the best event in its history, but this year there is an exceptional field for both men’s and women’s titles. The calibre is truly outstanding, with players keen to vye for world ranking points and a possible place in the World Masters tournament.
‘Whoever is crowned winner of the men’s or women’s singles will know that they have beaten a world class field.
‘Perhaps a local player upset the apple cart. With more than 50 years involvement in the sport I have learned to never say never...’ said France.
The festival of darts is promoted by LF Promotions and supported by Isle of Man Tourism, Winmau, Okells, IoM Steam Packet Company and Specsavers.
You can read regular updates in the lead-up to the festival via Twitter on @iomdartfest